Tuesday, December 1, 2015
True Humility. . .
Not long ago our nation swooned over the visit Pope Francis and his humility. He wore no papal red shoes but the simple loafers of an ordinary man. He rode in no big black limousine but a little Fiat 500L. Look at how humble he is. Without disparaging the man, this is not what humility is about. True humility is not about what you wear or the car in which you ride. On this first Sunday in Advent we see true humility in Him whose innocent life is willingly exchanged for the guilty sinner.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem and to His destiny of the cross on the back of a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey, on which none had ridden before. Truly Jesus is set to go where no one had gone. His humility here was not a gesture but a life of given willingly in suffering. It was not to make an impression upon a crowd but to signal what He came to do. He rode to the cross for a world caught in sin an death, to redeem sinners like you and me with the power of His blood shed.
That is the humility of the Son of God. His power is hidden in weakness. He does not claim the honor that is His by right but claims the sins that belong solely to us. His wisdom is not lofty philosophy but the foolishness of the cross. His riches are born not from earthly values but the poverty of suffering.
The humility of Jesus is not show or gesture but the innocent who rides to His destiny of the cross, the innocent who dies for the guilty. This is how Advent begins. Our Lord has come for but one purpose – to stretch out His arms in suffering to release from suffering those who believe in Him. His annunciation to the Virgin hides the future of the cross. His incarnation in Bethlehem hides the promise of His death. The wood of the manger hides the wood of the cross.
He is carried into Jerusalem not for the welcome of the crowd or the cries of hosanna nor for the admiration and respect of a world. No, He comes to carry the weight of our sin on His back, to suffer the full measure of the punishment our sins incurred, and to pay the full cost of our redemption with His holy body and precious blood.
He does not ask what we want, He is not Santa, but is incarnate into our flesh to know what we need apart from our asking. His humility is that He does so willingly exchanging His glory for our death. A carpet of palms gives ways to a blood stained cross. Shouts of hosanna give way to the cries of “Crucify Him!” This is not drama; this is not staged to make an impression upon us but to signal from the beginning what His mission and purpose are all about.
We want an Advent which is about decorations, shopping, goodies, and parties. We want a scenic and sentimental journey to Christmas. What we get is a Savior who comes in our own flesh, humble and mounted upon a donkey, riding from annunciation to incarnation to the cross that is His chosen destiny.
What is begun today ends with a lone voice which cries out in the face of His death – “Truly this was the Son of God!” As we make our journey through Advent well, we will end up in the same place, looking up to Him who died and exclaiming in faith: Truly this IS the Son of God! For anything less is unworthy of Him who came to suffer and die for us sinners.
Collects are too often the most ignored part of the service but if you listen well you will hear what will be proclaimed from the lectern and preached from the pulpit -- introduced by the little collect. Advent always begins with the same collect or prayer: Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come... This is how He comes. This is His power. On a donkey headed for a cross, with the goal of suffering and death. This is the side of Advent and Christmas that makes us wince. Put it off until Lent and let us enjoy our little extravagance without destroying the whole season with talk of sin and death, repentance and faith. But Jesus will have it no other way. Either He comes to die or He comes not at all.
He comes to show mercy to those who do not deserve it or none will be saved. He comes to show us the humility of love that is no gesture or show but the suffering that purchases salvation for us.
So today the faithful come. Advent has begun. We make our first steps in our walk to the manger and we find in it the cross. And we do so with our own humility. The humility of repentance and faith, acknowledging our sin and rejoicing in God’s mercy to love and forgive sinners. The humility of trust, trusting not in our merits or our worthiness nor demanding rights or privilege but claiming only the righteousness of Christ and the works of Christ – the Savior who loves even sinners.
So now let the faithful begin their Advent song, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord...” You will note that this song we sing every Sunday as we receive Him who comes to us in the bread and the wine.
Knowing that the manger leads to the cross does not destroy Advent and Christmas. Just the opposite. It makes it bigger and better. And if we thus begin, it will yield in us abundant fruit -- joy that cannot be diminished by difficult circumstances and peace that flourishes beyond understanding no matter what live presents to us. God grant us this, Amen.